Children of the early 2000’s finally got the chance to live out their fantasies of becoming a Pokémon master earlier this year with the release of Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game that allows players to find and catch Pokémon on their phones. The magic behind Pokémon Go is that it brings the delightful creatures of the Pokémon universe to life, superimposing an image of them into the player’s actual surroundings by way of the camera phone and some technical tricks. With the app, you can walk around the block and discover all your favourite Pokémon running around your very own neighbourhood!
The game has been a smash hit in Canada since its release in July. Unfortunately, it hasn’t all been Gym badges and sunshine though. With a sudden influx of foot traffic in several areas, and with players focusing on their phones instead of their surroundings, some safety issues have cropped up. As more players find themselves wandering into injuries and accidents, it’s important to be aware of the risks inherent with an augmented reality game so you can play safely.
Wandering out of the tall grass and into trouble
In the Pokémon video games, the protagonist is pretty brazen in his or her quest to “catch ’em all” by thoughtlessly stomping across fields, exploring spooky caves without a second thought, and being shameless when it comes to private property. In the games, homes and businesses basically exist so you can rifle through them for extra Poké Balls and health potions.
While Pokémon Go might be all about living out the experience of being a Pokémon trainer, you don’t want to imitate EVERYTHING done in the game! Disregarding private property and potential dangers is a good way to get yourself in trouble or worse.
Stay mindful of property boundaries and be respectful of others while on the trail of those Pokémon. Stick to public areas such as streets, parks, and beaches where foot traffic is expected and allowed. When exploring the neighborhood, remember that other people may not know or understand anything about Pokémon Go. When they see you wandering around their yard with a phone out, they might not realize you’re playing a game, instead they may assume you’re up to something nefarious. Trespassing is a real offense that can land you in serious trouble, and the police are unlikely to be impressed by your excuse that a Sandshrew is too rare to ignore when they respond to calls about a possible prowler skulking around.
Also, keep your own safety in mind. Chasing Pokémon in risky places such as abandoned lots, near cliffs or ledges, or alone late at night is not a good idea. It’s easy to become overly fixated on the game and end up blindsided by the dangers around you. Use your head while you’re on the chase – stay clear of sketchy or dangerous areas, and if you really feel like you have to play at night, make sure you’re with a friend.
On the other side of the equation, even if you’re not personally interested in playing the game, you should be aware of how it might influence the behavior of others. Keep an eye out while driving for people overly fixated on their phones who may wander into traffic. It may also be a good idea for home or business owners to download the app and check their local neighborhood for points of interest. If you happen to be located next to a Gym or Poké stop (gathering locations in the game where players compete or stock up on supplies), you can expect a bit of extra foot traffic. This would be a good time to make sure your property is hazard-free, clearly marked as private, and your liability policy is up to date. You don’t want to end up liable if someone slips on your property while distracted.
Driving while playing, “I choose you, crippling fine!”
Driving while trying to catch Pokémon does not mix. You’d think this was obvious, but it hasn’t stopped some players from trying to multitask in the worst possible way. Just look at this guy who not only got into an accident because he was playing Pokémon Go while driving, he managed to hit a police car (don’t worry, nobody was injured).
All told, this guy got off lucky. It could have been a lot worse. He could have just as easily drifted into a head-on collision, run over an innocent pedestrian, or swerved into a building instead of hitting an empty squad car. You don’t want to permanently injure or kill somebody for the sake of catching yet another worthless Zubat, so turn the game off when behind the wheel.
Also remember that Ontario recently enacted tough distracted driving regulations. Even if you don’t cause an accident, being caught messing with your phone while driving can carry steep fines that can range from $400-$1000, an automatic three points off your license, and the possibility of a license suspension. That’s a lot of hassle for a game. Keep your priorities straight while on the road.
Be the very best
As with many things, a little common sense goes a long way when it comes to safely enjoying Pokémon Go. Have fun, but don’t get so focused you become tunnel visioned to everything else around you. Keep track of where you are, if it’s appropriate and safe to be there, and that you’re not unduly imposing on anyone else (running through the park to catch something is fine; loudly stomping through the library is not).
Business and homeowners should take Pokémon Go as a reminder to keep their property safe. With increased foot traffic comes increased risk. Make sure your property is clearly marked, hazards such as pools, loading docks, and equipment are properly secured, and reexamine your comprehensive insurance policy. With the success of Pokémon Go, you can be sure other game companies will be quick to release their own augmented reality games, so the extra foot traffic and risk associated with this kind of game is going to be with us for awhile.
Stay safe and have fun “catching ’em all!”